#nofilter

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CC Image courtesy of oddsock on FlickrI discovered the filter function on OkCupid the other day.

I was having brunch with Tristan, Tristan’s girlfriend (don’t ask), Ryan and a couple of others, who were incidentally also a couple. Conversation turned to dating.

‘How did you two meet?’ Tristan says to The Couple.

They laugh. ‘OkCupid,’ they say, at the exact same time.

‘Yeah, when I applied the filters that really mattered to me,’ the girl says, looking fondly at the residue, ‘you were the only one left!’

The residue smiles. I frown. Filters? That’s only available on the paid option, no?

No, so the following evening, remembering this conversation, I start filtering like a SWIMMING POOL, trying not to think about how much time I’ve wasted scrolling through unsuitable profiles.

Single, straight, at least 5’10” (my height), university-educated non-smokers – that’s all I’m asking for. Oh and in the interests box I put the name of my favourite band, believing – perhaps mistakenly – that there’s a much greater chance I’ll hit it off with a fellow fan. I start scrolling through the results. One guy catches my eye.

There should be a name for it, when you’ve seen someone on every online dating platform going, you’ve consistently ‘liked’ them because, y’know, they’ve got great bone structure, are funny and like all the same music and books as you. And they’ve been consistently unresponsive. This time I copy and paste his interests section for when I feel like browsing Spotify for new music, before returning to the search results.

I continue scrolling down, only to be met with the words that there are no more results and that I might want to consider revising my criteria. The band gets the axe and, what the hell, alcoholism and smoking – they have a certain charm, right?

A short while later I find myself back on a familiar profile: a chain-smoking heteroflexible* divorced father of two who lives on the wrong side of the Channel. And who I’m pretty sure I’ve already spoken to.

CC Image courtesy of [Rossco]:[www.rgstrachan.com] on Flickr

*Defined on Urban Dictionary as ‘I’m straight but shit happens’.

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The Chips Are Down

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CC Image courtesy of Riebart on Flickr‘Do you do chips?’

‘I’m afraid not.’ The barmaid shows me a menu. ‘We do pizza, and bruschetta…’

I’m slightly regretting choosing the Islington venue. The walk from the tube – all twenty minutes of it – might have taken me down some of London’s prettiest streets but the pub at the end of it thinks bruschetta is an acceptable substitute for chips. Clutching my gin and tonic I make my way upstairs.

The event is due to start any minute and the participants are all standing around talking to each other, which puzzles me. What I like about the speed dating concept is that you have a finite amount of time with each person. If you don’t click, it’s four minutes of small talk, and if you do, you match via the Original Dating app and… who knows? (Who indeed?) But the point is I don’t want to meet these men beforehand, run out of things to say and then be faced with the prospect of a four-minute ‘date’.

We take our seats, the women that is. (As is traditional in speed dating, if a phenomenon less than twenty years old can be said to have traditions, it is the men who rotate.) Lee sits down opposite me, introduces himself. We’ve already exhausted small talk when the host announces that our first four minutes is about to begin. This, I think to myself, is going to be a long night.

But it isn’t. In the break, I chat to one of the other girls in the loo. She’s also pleasantly surprised. No thunderbolts, we agree, but everyone is really nice. It’s the kind of event that reassures you there are nice people out there; it’s just a question of meeting someone you click with. Which is an argument in favour of going to more than one event. Several of my ‘dates’ have done just that. Rob tells me about his experience of Literary Speed Dating, where you bring a book and have to talk about it. I’d worry that it would attract pretentious types and intellectual snobs but Rob just likes books. And I quite like Rob.

CC Image courtesy of Boston Public Library on Flickr

The girl in the loo makes another good point: that it can be hard to tell after just four minutes. We’ve all been given sheets to complete with peoples’ names, speed dating numbers and a verdict (‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘friend’). Some of the guys aren’t bothering to fill it out and I can kinda see why. You remember the names of people you like without an aide memoire.

Or do you? I dry my hands, pick up my bag. I could leave through the bar or go upstairs and say goodbye, perhaps swap numbers. That might be a bit weird though.

Everyone’s now downstairs, which does away with the need to make a decision.

‘I’m gonna head, but it was really nice to meet you!’ I say, tapping her on the shoulder.

‘Anna! It was! Here, let me give you my number – we should do something sometime!’

I grin and fish for pen and paper. She looks puzzled and pulls out her phone. ‘Or… give me yours.’

I recite the digits.

‘This is terrible,’ I say, ‘but… I’m so sorry, was it… Rachel?’

She laughs. ‘Steph. I’ll text you.’

‘Great.’

I pass Rob on the way out, exchange farewells. I’m still not sure, which the cynic in me says is probably a no.

CC Image courtesy of Family O'Abe on Flickr

Find out more about Original Dating speed dating events in Islington and places that serve chips here.

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Model Behaviour

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CC Image courtesy of rayand on Flickr

At uni I launched a poster campaign. I was looking for a man. The precise wording:

Would you like to learn to dance? I’m looking for a 6ft+ male…

‘Really you’re just looking for a boyfriend,’ Tom said.

‘Actually I’m not. I do genuinely want to find someone to dance with!’

 

One morning, as I was coming out of a lecture, my eye was caught by a pair of cheekbones and a tall, slender frame. He was beautiful, the kind of man I’d normally be scared to talk to. But – and this must stand to show just how desperate I was – I asked him straight out, was he interested in learning to dance?

He was nice, pleasant, chatty… not interested in learning to dance. But I went back to college riding a little high, the kind you get after being in the presence of – and acknowledged by – the very beautiful.

 

We became library buddies: he’d drop me a line when he needed a particular book. Then he’d appear at the porter’s lodge, an exotic presence, looking every inch the catwalk model (which he was).

‘Why are you putting on make-up?’ Tom said, leaning against the doorframe of my room.

‘No reason.’

And, my twenty-year-old self knew, very little point.

CC Image courtesy of Dia™ on Flickr

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The Final Act

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CC Image courtesy of Toxictea on FlickrAll I can think about is the scene in When Harry Met Sally.  Meg Ryan is sobbing onto Harry’s shoulder, wailing about the fact that when Joe said he didn’t want to get married, what he actually meant was ‘he didn’t want to marry me!’

FFS gives my hand a squeeze.  ‘What are you thinking?’

What to say?  That this is all bullshit?  That I’ve seen the films, hell, I’ve even experienced it in real life.  The last man to use this line was Max.  The circumstances might be different, but the bottom line’s the same.

FFS is looking at me steadily.  I shrug.  ‘Well, that’s that.’

He hugs my legs to him, rests his head against them.   I run my fingers through his hair.  Not big hair.  I want to kiss him, take him to my bed, but I know that come the morning it will feel so much worse.

He draws me towards him, cradles me.  We kiss.

I draw back.  ‘I’m just going to the bathroom.’

When I get back, I don’t rejoin him on the sofa, but remain standing.

He looks up at me.  ‘Do you want me to go?’

No.

‘Yes.’

I perch on the arm of the sofa, rest my chin on my hand, and stare ahead at the sea of used wine glasses.  Some are half-full, most are empty.  I can feel him looking at me, and turn to meet his gaze, force a smile.  He pulls me onto his lap, caresses my neck.

‘Don’t worry,’ I say, laughing.  ‘I’ve got an excellent track record of crying on my birthday, and I have no intention of breaking with tradition!’

He looks surprised and laughs, hugs me tighter.  It’s a strange thing, to be comforted by the one who is the cause of your distress.  I know I won’t let him stay, but still, I don’t want to be alone; because I know that, once he leaves, I’ll cry, and I don’t want that.

His hands are wandering.  I lie there, passive.  I want it to mean something, I always do.  This time last year, I was in Milonga’s bed.  I woke the next day and went on my way.  The hot spring sun beat down upon the pavement as I walked to the station in my ballgown.  I’d heard the term ‘the walk of shame’ but never for a moment thought that this was it.  I stopped at a supermarket for a bag of apples and a bottle of water.  On the train, children stared as I stared out of the window, feeling the first twinges of embarrassment.

A year on, I see more clearly.  I know that, come the morning, he will have everything he wants, and I will have nothing.  I will feel empty and alone and used.  His hand strays to my thigh.  I think back to how he was earlier in the evening, so cold, so uncaring, and twist myself out of his embrace.

‘Shall I look up night buses?’ I say, rising from the sofa.

There’s a pause.

‘If you don’t mind.’

I retrieve my computer from where it’s lying on the floor, and run the necessary search.

 

In the hallway, he dons his coat.  We hug.  His arms are still around me, his face set in a frown.  I want him to un-say everything, to change his mind.

‘I really like spending time with you,’ he says, ‘and I’d like to stay…’

I smile.  ‘I like spending time with you too.  Like you said, we have a good laugh…’

What he’d actually said was ‘we do laugh a lot’, which made me feel really sad.  We’re always laughing, and it’s what I’ll miss most about him.

‘… but,’ I go on, ‘you’ve said you only want something light and ‘detached’, something on your terms…’

He shrugs and doesn’t deny it.

‘… and, well, it’s not that I want something serious…’

Would it be such a crime if I did?

‘… it’s just that – I’d like – a bit more contact!  I don’t want to have to act ‘detached’!’

‘Fair.’

‘And so, at the moment it’s a good thing that we have a laugh together, but eventually it will become a problem…’

He nods.  ‘Yeah.’

‘So,’ I say, sighing, ‘for the above reasons…’

CC Image courtesy of LaVolpe Photography on Flickr

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Butterflies

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CC Image courtesy of Southernpixel - Alby Headrick on FlickrI decide the ominous-looking cloud isn’t about to unburden itself.  Tupperware in one hand, book in the other, I set up camp in my favourite lunch spot: near the bins.  It’s not long before the sun appears and, with it, Colleague.

He smiles, comes over, and sits down next to me on the steps.  This is probably the most romantic thing that’s ever happened to me at work.

We chatter away, discussing our respective neighbourhoods, driving tests, books, bedroom decor (don’t ask). There’s something about him: he’s funny, in a gentle, understated way.  He has a way of talking which puts you at ease; and everything he says is interesting.  My book lies forgotten beside me. 

Eventually he gets up.

‘Enjoy your lunch.’

‘Thanks.’

He walks away.  I look after him, a silly grin on my face.  I haven’t felt like this in a while – not for a couple of months anyway.       

I glance at my watch; I have two minutes before I need to be back at the counter and I’ve barely touched my lunch.  Ah well.  I rise and wander in the direction of the kitchens. 

That afternoon, there’s a run of tiresome clients at the counter.  Apparently.

CC Image courtesy of fox_kiyo on Flickr